Google vs. Android

on February 12, 2014

One of the more interesting narratives that is starting to become mainstream is the knowledge that there are versions of Google’s Android operating system which compete directly with Google’s Android operating system. Google offers to the world a clean, and updated, version of Android as an open source code base (AOSP). There has been an increase in coverage by the media to explain how and why Android should not be forked at this point.

What I have continually articulated publicly is that the best way to understand Android is to think of it as a platform for which others can create platforms. Google has taken the basic AOSP code base and integrated their services on top of it and offered this version of Android to be used by anyone who they approve by passing their device certification requirements. Amazon and Xiaomi are top tier examples of companies who have taken AOSP Android and used it for their own benefits by differentiating the platform in unique ways that fit their core business model. A commenter on a recent article, who states they are on the Android team eloquently explains what Android actually is and why is exists. I encourage you to read the whole comment but I have chosen these quotes:

AOSP is far more than the basic bones of a smartphone operating system. It is a complete smartphone operating system. The examples you provide for what it includes are very misleading — what about the launcher, contacts app, dialer and phone app, calendar app, camera and gallery and on? The fact is, if you build AOSP today and put it on a phone, you will have a pretty fully functioning platform.

AOSP is a fully functioning platform.

The thing you don’t have is stuff related to cloud services, and this is not an evil secret plan of Google, but a simple fact we have been clear about from the initial design of the platform: Android as an open-source platform simply can’t provide any cloud services, because those don’t run on the device where the platform code runs. This is a key point that seems to be completely missed. If you want to understand what Android is, how it is designed, and how the pieces fit together, you must understand this point.

Google’s services do not run on vanilla AOSP. Google takes AOSP and creates a new code base for which their services run. What becomes critical in the narrative is the word services. Software platforms are at their very basic core a mechanism to drive services. Windows was/is a mechanism to drive Microsoft’s services. Android is a mechanism for Google and others to drive their services. iOS and OS X are mechanisms for Apple to drive their services.

The data point gets voiced in the anti-forking Android narrative that Google’s services are so deeply relevant that it makes no sense to fork it. This is both true and not true at the same time. It is true in markets like the US and the UK that Google’s services are deeply relevant. You can even make a case that they are relevant in markets like India, and some other emerging regions, but this argument is less true in the same ways it is true in the US and the UK. Case in point.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 9.27.48 AM

On this Wikipedia page someone has taken all the regional data points publicly shared by Google about Play store for regions where customers can buy paid apps (column 1), developers can sell paid apps (column 2), and the following columns the types of content available (i.e magazines, books, music, tv, movies). The UK and the US are the only regions where all of the services Google has to offer a fully available. Worth mentioning, China is not even listed by Google as a region. *Thanks to James King for making me aware of this.

Now for comparison I took the whole of the Google Play availability for mentioned services and compared them iTunes((Here is the iTunes availably link. since both mentioned in the global services conversation. Here is what it looks like. Green means a particular services is available and red means it is not.


What you see with regard to the Google Play services availability is the biggest issue facing Google. It is one that is forcing, in a good way, local companies in those regions to create and bring to market services of their own to support their region. China is the best example of this do date. Granted China’s Android ecosystem is a bit messy with over 100 different app stores but the region is quickly fixing these issues and consolidating.

The fact that Android is being used as an open source platform is not necessarily a bad thing for Google. What is challenging is that they are not making the impact with their services the way they need to be in many of these regions. Their competition in this case is not from the likes of Apple or Microsoft necessarily but from savvy startups looking to solve a problem in their region and doing it better than Google can thus keeping Google out of regions they may wish to compete.